Today, there are nearly 2 billion Internet users worldwide. Out of this impressive figure, 200 million users live in Latin America and 10 million are connected in Venezuela -which represents 37.6 percent of the country's population. In the near future, digital natives will be the majority among people surfing the web for information, socializing in the networks, purchasing goods and, of course, voicing their political views. The only risk is the digital divide that can emerge among those who value the progress of the web and those who do not
Why? Firstly because almost a third of the world population is connected (30 percent in 2011) and some more in Latin America, where the adoption is higher (39 percent in 2011), whereas in Venezuela it reaches 37.6 percent. If this percentage is not enough, then let us talk about absolute values. There are almost 2,000 million users in the world, 200 million in Latin America and more than 10 million in our country.
Although this amount is very important, it can be added that the growth rate is so high that more than half population is expected to be connected soon, with an even higher penetration in children and teenagers, indicating that in a short while the e-natives will be the majority.
E-media are having a tremendous role in consumers' decision-making, and although a little slower but more certainly, in voters as well. Nowadays, it is unlikely that a cybernaut will not use the Internet when planning to buy some item that involves a high degree of involvement, or will not learn from the Internet about the political events of the country. In fact, Internet influences cybernauts' behavior, from the arising of the need, to the gathering of information, assessment of choices, the decision of buying or voting to subsequent comments on their experiences. In a recent survey of digital trends, a third of Latin American users claimed to have searched for political information and electoral campaigns, 80 percent over last year percentage.
Even a phenomenon such as social networks, which was initially regarded by some as an interaction experience among friends, is now turning out to be a big chance to interact with target audiences.
However, while the Internet in Latin America has been growing, most people do not use the Internet, causing a digital gap inside and among countries. This gap could be as complex as the classical difference between the rich and the poor, gender, age, education, race and place of residence.
Its importance resides in the lineal relationship between technology and development. That is, the more a country (or a person) has access to technology the more the development chances look more favorable and vice versa.
In the Venezuelan case, the biggest rift is not produced at a financial level but at an educational one. In fact, only 7 percent of the reasons for not using the Internet is linked to costs; whereas not knowing stands out in first place with 41 percent. Likewise, the digital gap is multitechnological, because it is not only about the access to the Internet but to broadband connection, followed by access in homes.
But, what is coming on the road?
Many companies accompanied by social media have had the chance to try digital media and prove that the Internet works. Now, e-media have overtaken some traditional media, with a prominent exposure and a bigger involvement. Companies will hardly leave out e-media, let alone when penetration is approaching most people (over 50 percent). The next two years will be without a doubt an inflexion point for advertising through digital media.
People in general, professionals and politicians have embraced the Web 2.0, not only through growing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but also the transformation of many web sites into social media, where users participate by posting, commenting and sharing contents. However, this "web socialization" will continue deepening through additional uses, such as social marketing and geolocation -just to mention some- as well as mobile connections that facilitate social exchanges in real time. Also, the Internet will continue getting closer to the "living room," and will stop being an exclusive tool in offices and classrooms. Specifically, eTV and interconnected videogames will keep on penetrating the market.
Likewise, greater mobility in connections and an increase in equipment convergence will be appreciated. Mobility is linked with increasing penetration of mobile phones and their potential connection to Internet, as well as the increasing use of mobile Internet offered by carriers for most laptops and notebooks that overflow into the market. But this mobility will also involve new increasingly important online devices, such as video games consoles and tablets.
As for corporations, people and politicians (some think they are not the same), it is essential to understand that there are more and more people connected to the Internet and this media outlet is having a higher influence on decision making. It is very likely that competitors are already cashing in on the Internet to be "the first one" in their markets.
What to do?
1) Knowing in which proportion and how the target market is using e-media.
2) Defining how the Internet could help them attain their goals, and
3) Including e-media in marketing plans and campaigns.
In effect, in the future, the gap could be measured in terms of the people, corporations and politicians who managed to seize the opportunities given by the Internet and those that missed them out... between them there could be an abyss. Only you can decide on which side of that abyss you want to be.
Translated by Adrián Valera
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.